Before we were even off the plane, our trip was off to a good start: the gentleman sitting next to me handed me a stick of gum with some kanji on the wrapper, and then when I handed his trash "service items" to the flight attendant for him, he said "Arigato." (I was so excited that someone had said something to me in Japanese and I'd understood it, but when I told Electra eliciel about it when we got to Sapporo, her reaction was, "That's all he said? Ooh, burn!" But when I explained that he had been a middle-aged man, she replied, "Oh! That's okay, then!" Social interaction: it's highly scripted!)
We, um, didn't really sleep much during the sixteen-some-hour flight. That was mostly because the sun never went down. We never left the part of the planet that was being hit by sunlight. We did manage to write some Scheme on the plane, though. And the food was truly decent, and there was real silverware. And I actually made an ice cream float out of the vanilla ice cream and Diet Coke that the flight attendant gave me. You guys, I prepared food on a plane!
Our first few hours in country were pretty wild, especially for a naive amerikajin like me who's never done international travel at all before. We went through -- not "immigration", exactly -- uh, the "foreigners" line, where they fingerprinted us (with machines from The Future), took our pictures, and grilled us about where we were staying that night ("um, on a train?") before letting us through. It turns out that every single person who works at Narita Airport is simultaneously furiously busy and utterly put-together. The office where we picked up our rail passes was a perfectly organized whirlwind of rubber-stamping and stapling and just, well, fearsome efficiency that we were too jetlagged to really process.
We managed to get our rail passes and our rented phone and we gathered up all of our luggage and stumbled to the train platform, where we proceeded to immediately get on the wrong train. Not just the wrong train, but the wrong part of the wrong train: pretty much the first thing that happened was that we got booted out of the first-class section. But we managed to make it back to a part of the train that we were actually allowed to sit in -- either that or they were just nice enough not to kick us off. That's when the exhaustion really began to sink in. We had taken too long getting our stuff done at the airport, and it was becoming apparent that we'd get into Tokyo several hours later than we intended, because even though the train we were on was pointed in the right direction, it was the slow train to Tokyo. Meanwhile, the train was becoming more and more crowded with people who looked like they regularly won haircut competitions, and the scene outside the train was changing from farmland to Cowboy Bebop.
We wanted to go out and maybe look at Tokyo, but there was no time. We dragged all of our stuff off the train at Tokyo station -- trying not to bump into the woman across from us who was carefully working on her face with a Hello Kitty makeup kit -- and somehow, I don't remember how, figured out how to get on another train up to Ueno station. We'd been hoping to take a break there and visit Ueno Park, but we didn't even get to go outside. Instead, we went on a mad dash around the huge train station trying to find the right train to Sapporo before it left. I'm still amazed that we managed to find and board the correct trains to both Ueno and Sapporo, considering we were very, very late into Tokyo and we couldn't read any of the signs and we were pretty unclear on most of the other details and we barely had enough energy to stand up, let alone move through crowded train stations loaded down with bags. But I knew our train left at 7:03 p.m., so whenever I saw anything that said "19:03" I just pointed myself toward it, and this somehow worked and we got onto the train about ten minutes before it left and we found our car and our little sleeping space and then we basically fell over from exhaustion and profound relief.
And that was Tuesday. Oh, and I held on to that gum wrapper from the plane all the way to Sapporo, where Electra tried to translate what it said for us. The verdict: it's pretty hard to translate, but it's something more or less along the lines of "the sweet smell of a man". This, approximately, wins.